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Man vs. Machine: Watson comes to Orlando

by Davin Wilfrid

March 16, 2011

by Davin Wilfrid, Senior Analyst, insiderRESEARCH

Despite an embarrassing mishap at the conclusion of day two (WHAT IS TORONTO????), IBM's Watson supercomputer thoroughly dominated trivia kingpins Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter during a televised spectacle a few weeks ago. Now attendees at the combined SCM, PLM, Procurement, Manufacturing and CRM 2011 conferences in Orlando get their shot at revenge for all of humanity.

At the IBM Innovation Center on site, attendees will be able to play a simulated game of Jeopardy against Watson. Well... mostly. IBM isn't about to ship an entire server room full of POWER7 machines down to Orlando. Instead they've crafted an interactive Watson experience in the form of a 7-foot-tall touch-screen kiosk pre-loaded with videos and Jeopardy-style trivia content.

The experience of playing against Watson, according to IBM, is largely the same as Jennings and Rutter enjoyed, only without the TV cameras and smarmy host. The purpose of bringing Watson to the event is to showcase the emerging role of highly sophisticated analytics in the enterprise. IBM's Chris Moose will be on hand to demonstrate how analytics will impact supply chain software and strategies in the near future.

While Watson itself is something of a clever gimmick, a lot of what IBM and SAP advocate in the analytics space makes sense. IBM believes enterprise solutions (hardware + software) will trend toward single-purpose design (in Watson's case, playing Jeopardy). SAP has moved aggressively in this direction, recently announcing a spate of industry-focused analytics applications based on its highly-touted in-memory analytics (HANA) technology and holding forth about the roadmap for HANA going forward. 

As a trivia buff, I'll definitely try my hand at beating Watson in Orlando. Fair warning, though: if I lose, don't be surprised if Watson finds himself surreptitiously unplugged. I'm only human, right?


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